Last week I had the privilege of sitting on a panel for Toronto’s Social Media Week to discuss the impact of social media on Toronto’s recent municipal election. The panel featured an impressive group of folks who use and deeply understand social media: The Globe’s Kelly Grant, voting reform activist Dave Meslin, Edleman Digital VP Dave Fleet, “resident communist” (and National Post columnist) Jonathan Goldsbie, Smitherman spokesperson Stefan Baranski and digital strategist (and moderator) Michael Nus.
As the administrator of the website Toronto Election News, I closely observed each mayoral camp and most of the hot races across the city. Unlike some panels I have participated in, every member had excellent insights into the use of social media in political campaigning. You can watch the entire discussion thanks to Justin Kozuch) via Ustream here. You can also check out the reactions on Twitter here.
For those who don’t have the time to watch the discussion, I’m happy to offer some conclusions on social media and politics from the discussion with my fellow panellists. The big take away is that social media is a tool for your campaign, not the tool – there are no silver bullets here.
Some other insights:
1. Politicians are still on ‘transmit’: The panel agreed that most of the campaigns still used social media to almost exclusively transmit messages rather than try and engage their constituents or potential supporters. One noted that if you look at the Facebook Pages, no one was even responding to comments to posts. Everyone agreed that this is going to have to change.
2. Media still loves a horserace: The panel noted that the media often looked to statistics such as number of followers to determine who was “winning” the social media war. But such shallow analysis is often misleading and really doesn’t provide any context to how a campaign is using social media and whether they are doing it effectively.
3. Goals must be defined: The panel generally agreed that social media has moved past the stage of being a concept or gimmick when have a Facebook Page meant you were connected and current. Now, activities must shift towards defining real goals related to election activity (Voter ID, GOTV, etc) and social media be leveraged to meet those goals.
4. Content is (still) king: It doesn’t matter if you have a great hashtag or Ustream ever event, if your key messages do not resonate, it won’t matter. Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi was held as an example: he ran an excellent social media campaign, but his message never seemed to resonate with Toronto voters. As a result, his online never really morphed into wider concrete support with voters.
It was a great discussion and I enjoyed being a part of it. Campaigners using social media would be well served to heed the advice presented by the panel.